Industrial vs homemade hot chocolate: what do you lose when buying a drink that is so easy to make at home in tetrabrick

Desserts

Hot chocolate is an indispensable companion to our traditional festivals, always well stocked with sweets that ask to be dipped in the thick and sweet liquid that seduces young and old alike. How could it be less, many will say goodbye to Christmas with roscón de Reyes and hot chocolate, although the artisanal preparation of the latter seems to be lost more and more.

And it is paradoxical that, while every year the quality of artisan roscones is revalued and we recover their homemade preparation, chocolate is being relegated to industrial concoctions that are not at all up to the level of the sweet it accompanies. Convenience is no excuse when making hot chocolate at home is so easy, and it offers us infinitely better results than any ultra-processed version.

The food industry knows that consumers tend to look for products that save time and effort. This, translated into the current rhythms of life, is reflected in an immense catalog of foods prepared according to each range that aim to facilitate our day to day when we have less and less time to invest in the kitchen.

The problem is that we have become spoiled, becoming somewhat comfortable and a bit lazy. It is one thing not to know how to cook well or not to have a lot of time during the week to prepare elaborate recipes; It is quite another to resort to tetrabrick chocolate out of simple laziness or disinterest.

Hot or hot chocolate is not a drink to drink every day; It is an occasional whim that we do well to reserve, especially for specific parties and celebrations. The New Year's churros, the Carnival fritters, the Easter monas or the roscón de Reyes are good examples in which sweet and drink make a perfect sweet pairing.

Also very caloric, there is no doubt about that, but precisely for that reason it is worth taking the trouble to choose and prepare a good quality chocolate. If we strive to prepare our sweets or search for the best, why sully it with mediocre chocolate? If we're going to indulge ourselves, let's do it properly.

A drink with a lot of history

We Spaniards discovered cocoa to Europe and the entire world, spreading its enjoyment first in the form of hot chocolate and making it a very popular drink among all social classes. We have already seen how the clergy, kings and nobles were hooked for centuries, and it was also established as a drink for daily consumption by the common people.

Bollet or stone chocolate bar, from Chocolates Comes.

Chocolate was prepared by grinding the cocoa to the stone, giving it the shape of pills, thick tablets or bars, already mixed with sugar and, sometimes, aromatic spices. This format is still being prepared today at a more artisanal level, such as that of the Valencian firm Chocolates Comes, and it allows us to appreciate the coarse and grainy texture of the unrefined product.

Our well-known Juan de la Mata also dedicates a section to chocolate in his 'Art of pastry' from 1747, also giving details of its composition and preparation. Cocoa, sugar and cinnamon were the most accepted ingredients, although he acknowledges that vanilla or orange blossom can be added, but he especially discourages the abuse of the first, because it shortens the conservation and causes "burning inflammations".

'Still life with chocolate service', Luis Egidio Meléndez (1770), Museo Nacional del Prado.

Chocolate at that time was considered a very healthy and restorative food, although certainly not with the properties that today we know that the purest cocoa possesses:

It is most useful done with due purity to comfort the stomach and chest; maintains, and restores natural heat; feeds, dispels, and destroys evil humors; fortifies, and strong the voice.

The traditional way to prepare the drink was by melting that earthy chocolate, chopped or grated, in boiling water. For this, copper chocolates were used, which conserved the heat very well, with a lid and a kind of rod with a grinder at one end. You only had to rub to stir the mixture, facilitating the melt and achieving a foamed texture.

Spanish chocolate was made with water and used to be thick and frothy

This foam is also characteristic of the chocolate that is still prepared today in Latin American countries, such as Mexico, where the wooden grinder is a very popular instrument that requires a certain art to handle it. Also called champurrado or chocolate atole, it is also distinguished by the addition of various spices.

Apparently the Spanish have always liked thicker chocolate, and that in France the version with milk became popular. Obviously, it all depends on the proportion of chocolate and liquid that is used; the water concentrates the flavor much more. Before using cups, chocolate was served in jícaras, without handles, and from the 17th century on, in mancerinas, an invention of the Jaen politician Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Leiva.

Mancerina with Indian flowers, around 1730, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Hamburg).

Chocolate was made cheaper by adding starches, flours or aromas

But the picaresque and sheer necessity led to adulterated chocolates, reducing the amount of cocoa and sugar to add starches, flours and aromas that hid the poor quality of the raw material. This made the product cheaper, making it more accessible to the less well-off population, sometimes even resorting to carob. Today it is fashionable as an ingredient healthyBut not so many years ago it was a cheap resource when chocolate became little more than a luxury.

Unfortunately, this amount of additives has re-emerged with force in recent decades, turning chocolate into an ultra-processed industrial product, loaded with sugar or sweeteners and with a more than questionable quality.

Industrial chocolates: a lot of sugar and little cocoa

Today we know that chocolate, or rather, pure cocoa has healthy properties, and that the occasional consumption of a good dark chocolate can have benefits. But we are also aware that it is far from being a medicinal remedy: it is caloric, it has a lot of fat and, in its processed forms, it is usually very rich in sugars.

That does not mean that we cannot choose a good quality hot chocolate that enhances its nutritional qualities as well as its flavor and texture. To choose well, as always, check the labeling to check and compare the ingredients that, remember, are ordered from highest to lowest amount present.

Today we find three different formats of preparations to make hot chocolate; these are its most common ingredients:

  • Hot chocolate in tablet. Sugar, cocoa mass, rice / corn flour / starch, cocoa butter, emulsifier, flavorings. The total sugar content is usually more than 50 g for every 100 g of chocolate; the purity of cocoa is around 30-45%, according to brands.
  • Instant hot chocolate powder. Sugar, defatted cocoa powder, flour / starch / thickener, emulsifier, flavorings. Some brands contain more thickener than cocoa. These preparations have less fat, but much more sugar, around 60 g of sugar per 100 ml of raw product.
  • Ready-to-drink liquid hot chocolate. Whole / skimmed / partially skimmed milk, water (optional), sugar, cocoa, starch / thickener, stabilizer, emulsifier, flavorings and salt (optional). Depending on the brand, they provide about 17-18 g of sugars for every 100 ml of product; a serving is considered to be 250 ml, a standard glass. Those that use whole milk or only partially skimmed milk have more fat, and a greater amount of cocoa, or without defatting.

The third option, tetrabrick chocolate, is the most comfortable and easy, since it really does not need any preparation, just heat it to taste. Since we don't add anything, we can more easily calculate the nutrients and calories it provides; You just have to remember that the 100 ml indicated on the label correspond to a tiny amount of chocolate that few people usually drink.

Liquid industrial chocolate is too sweet and has little cocoa

However, from a nutritional and organoleptic point of view, it is the least recommended format. The percentage and quality of the cocoa they possess is usually very poor and the taste excessively sweet, masking it with artificial aromas. A true lover of good hot chocolate would seldom choose these varieties to enjoy the drink as is, although they serve to dip the roscón or churros.

The other two formats already allow us to play a little more adjusting ingredients and quantities to taste. The instant soluble chocolate, however, also suffers from an excess of sugar, thickeners and unnatural aromas, and it is not always easy to calculate the amount of product to add to milk or water.

It is chocolate in a tablet that is closest to the way of preparing it in the past, already more refined and easier to melt. But, just as they began to do in the past, these chocolates contain a not inconsiderable amount of sugar and starches that lower their quality and leave us little room to define at home exactly how we want our chocolate.

Why make (good) chocolate at home

Few recipes are simpler than those for hot chocolate. We can complicate everything we want, but in essence we only need chocolate or cocoa, and water or milk. And it will only take a few minutes.

We will start with 1 liter of liquid for about four generous servings or six more measured ones.It can be made only with water if we like the traditional Spanish, or combining it with milk to our liking, which will soften the drink and help give it a certain consistency. But the thickness is not determined so much by the liquid as by the amount of chocolate that we are going to add.

We can only use cocoa powder, easier still, tablet chocolate, which provides a much thicker, tastier finish and avoids the risk of lumps. And it is not necessary to buy it special "to melt / a cup": the better the chocolate, the richer the drink will be. Why not invest in a tablet of origin, with a high percentage of cocoa, to our liking?

If it seems too intense, the easiest thing is to combine pure cocoa with chopped chocolate, optionally adding a teaspoon of cornstarch or another thickener, and sugar or sweeteners to taste. Another good idea is to flavor the liquid previously by making an infusion with natural vanilla, cinnamon stick, liquor or spices.

What proportions to use? It depends: it is best to experiment and adjust to taste. 100-150 g of cocoa go well for 1 liter of liquid, and can be enriched with some chocolate or a thickener. If we only use a tablet, a good measure is 120-150 g per 500 ml, since it will spread more than preparing it only with cocoa powder. Depending on the purity, we can also save on adding more sugar.

You always have to heat the water or milk to a boil before mixing with the chopped or grated chocolate, stirring gently until melted. It is then returned to the fire, cooking slowly, ensuring that it does not stick to the bottom, until the desired consistency is obtained. If it is left to rest for several hours before reheating it, it will gain in flavor and texture, and it is a delight with a few flakes of salt on top.

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